Integrating Making Across Curriculum

Integrating Making Across The Curriculum

Picture of Practice by Agency by Design Oakland 2017-2018 Teacher Fellows Gabi Lapointe and Annika McPeek

Gabi Lapointe and Annika McPeek are teachers at Hoover Elementary School in West Oakland. As part of their fellowship year with Agency by Design Oakland, Gabi and Annika worked together to integrate maker-centered learning into existing structures at their school.


Our school, Hoover Elementary, is undergoing a redesign to restructure the way we “do school.” One component of this redesign is a STEAM Lab. The current vision for STEAM Lab is the integration of literacy and a content area. Our hope was also that STEAM Lab could be a place where maker-centered learning will live. Our school does not currently have a maker space in place, nor does it have any making teachers, so the driving force motivating our project was to gain a better understanding of how we might incorporate making into content area curriculum, in order to supplement and support student learning. Our driving question for our inquiry work was: How can a maker-centered learning project provide a complementary and culminating experience to an integrated unit of study?


Our integration of reading, writing, and social studies with the FOSS (Full Option Science System) science curriculum was driven by standards. We focused on creating a culminating task that would provide students an opportunity to collect information from research and show their understanding in a final project. They would also require information from the “Pebbles Sand and Silt” FOSS unit to understand the relationship between materials and their properties. Creating notecards for their final presentation was a writing task for students to synthesize information gained from multiple sources. See the bottom of the post for the standards we were trying to hit in this unit. 

Students read and took notes on informational texts in order to learn about the structures people lived in long ago. After a whole-group activity that introduced students to the Parts, Purposes, and Complexities Thinking Routine (PPC), students used a PPC approach to organize their notes. They used information gathered from reading to analyze the properties of those materials (parts) and why they were used (purpose), in order to create effective structures. Students then worked in groups to choose materials, based on properties congruous with their purpose, to design and build structures demonstrating understanding of the houses they learned about. They were given an opportunity to share their finished products with a class of kindergarten students.

Essential Understandings
Our culminating project required students to use knowledge of social studies and material properties to design and create a structure based on their research. Components of design thinking and Agency by Design strategies showed up in our project through encouraging group work and collaboration, the Parts, Purposes, and Complexities (PPC) Thinking Routine, and our observations of student ownership.

Students had access to information about different native tribes of California and the communities they lived in. They used texts we supplied from the public libraries, as well as their own knowledge of materials and properties, learned through the FOSS Science curriculum. These resources were the background knowledge they used to design structures from appropriate materials that would model the houses they researched.

“Parts” Diagram of the Ohlone Tule Reed Homes

“Parts” Diagram of the Ohlone Tule Reed Homes

Our unit integrated science and social studies 2nd grade state standards. Our goal was that students would use what they learned through the FOSS curriculum and through research on different indigenous groups to understand that native people of North America built structures using materials around them. In addition, the materials used served specific purposes for these structures.

During the Parts Purposes and Complexities thinking routine students analyzed the materials available to native tribes and investigated the purpose each material served in their structure. Students then used this knowledge to plan their own structures to emulate the structures they had researched. The PPC thinking routine was a common thread throughout the research, building, and presentation phases of this process. It helped guide students in their thinking of what was really important when reading texts, designing their structure, and building their structure.

Thinking routines established an approach to examining a topic and provided a scaffold through which our students could approach their structures. They helped to narrow the focus to what was really important in this unit: people choose certain materials to build with because of the properties the materials exhibit. Consistently exposing our students to the schema provided by the PPC routine helped tether our second graders to the task of constructing a structure based on research, particularly when it was tempting to embellish or decorate without purpose.


Culminating Presentation
Students worked in groups to document and reflect on the process of building structures, and then prepared presentations to teach a class of kindergarteners what they learned. The opportunity to teach others and share a final product was a great experience for both the kindergartners and the second graders.

Student Reflection and Synthesis of Learning
Students were asked a few questions to support them in reflecting on their work, and in pulling out the important information they were going to share with the kindergarten class. They were asked to provide basic information about the people they studied, and also to discuss the relationship between the parts and purposes for the houses they studied, and the structures they built with their group.

Question 1: Introduce the group you studied: 


Question 2: Parts and Purposes
Students demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between materials used and why they are used in their reflection. They could list properties of materials that relate to why those materials were good for building their structure. In addition, some groups were able to relate these properties to an understanding that the environment shapes the way these houses were built as well (“...bark which was insulating to keep them warm in the winter.”)


Question 3: Parts and Purposes of the structure students built
During their presentations, our students showed a sense of pride and ownership for their groups and for their structures. The opportunity to present and act as an expert on something helped our students see themselves as builders and makers. The chance to teach someone else something was an experience that allowed our students to see themselves as having something to contribute and share with our community.


Take Aways: What We Learned and Next Steps
Thinking routines help focus learning and organize student thinking. However, it is not only a valuable tool for the student. We found that the use of a thinking routine helps teachers assess student understanding as well. Thinking routines provide a structure which we felt supported our ability to pinpoint misunderstandings or gaps in knowledge. We would like to continue using thinking routines with consistency to support students’ development of critical thinking

Introducing and Implementing maker-centered learning in a classroom
Go slow! Because of the nature of our inquiry, we felt the pressure to implement a myriad of strategies and new challenges for our students all at once. Next year, we would like to be able to have a more gradual roll out of maker-centered learning in our classrooms to focus on instilling making mindsets and building agency and collaboration skills. In addition, we would like to have consistent implementation of design challenges and projects throughout the year to help students build their own sense of agency and identity as makers.

For our students, one really big goal we have is to support them in learning interpersonal and relational skills that will ensure they succeed in communicating and solving problems effectively with peers. We feel that a lot of the Agency by Design strategies and mindsets complement this goal. Having their own structure and group, they became “experts” on a certain group of people. This helped build a sense of ownership for their project and for the process they went through. In addition, students presented to the kindergarteners with a lot of pride and took on the role of teachers when they shared their projects. Looking to next year, we would like to encourage teachers at our school to allow more group work and projects that allow students to present and share their knowledge with others.


"I believe it is incredibly important to teach children to be problem-solvers and sense-makers in their own rights. I hope for my students to see that they can not only be students, but be teacher as well, and that they have agency in their lifelong careers as learners. Equally as important, I want my students to see that learning can be fun!"

-Gabi Lapointe
Second Grade Teacher, Hoover Elementary School, OUSD

Maria Lapointe is a second-year teacher at Hoover Elementary. She is currently teaching second grade, but in the process of a redesign at the school, she is the STEAM (STEM plus art) teacher for both 1st and 2nd grades. Maria is also a trainer in GLAD strategies, which is an organization that brings professional development in the area of language acquisition and literacy. She is very interested in developing her experience and ability to teach in meaningful ways that are flexible, academically rigorous, and conducive to student ownership and creativity.


"When my students engage in maker-centered learning, I observe them becoming dedicated to their learning in ways I don't see regularly. They light up with the joy of their ownership over their project in a way every child deserves." 

Annika McPeek
Science and Engineering Teacher, Hoover Elementary School, OUSD

Annika McPeek teaches science and engineering at Hoover Elementary in grades K-2 and is also the Lead Science Teacher and support STEAM instructor for K-5. She grew up going to a school where learning was through making, and she continued to engage in making throughout her life. Once she received her teaching credential, she was thrilled to find a job at Hoover Elementary as their engineering prep teacher. Over the past three years her role has developed to include making in her classes, and supporting STEAM integrated into regular classroom instruction.

Social Studies
-2.1 Students differentiate between things that happened long ago and things that happened yesterday.

- 2-PS1-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to describe and classify different kinds of materials by their observable properties. [Clarification Statement: Observations could include color, texture, hardness, and flexibility. Patterns could include the similar properties that different materials share.]
- 2-PS1-2. Analyze data obtained from testing different materials to determine which materials have the properties that are best suited for an intended purpose. [Clarification Statement: Examples of properties could include, strength, flexibility, hardness, texture, and absorbency.]

Common Core State Standards- Writing
-W.2.7 Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).
-W.2.8 Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.

Common Core State Standards- Reading
- RI.2.2 Identify the main topic of a multiparagraph text as well as the focus of specific paragraphs within the text.
- RI.2.10 By the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social  studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 2-3 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
- R.I.2.5 Know and use various text features (e.g., captions, bold print, subheadings, glossaries, indexes, electronic menus, icons) to locate key facts or information in a text efficiently.